Jesmyn Ward tackles some tough subjects in Salvage the Bones. Poverty, self doubt, and low self worth on the parts of every character in the story are tackled head on in a clear and focused way that is both engaging and at times uncomfortable. There is an overwhelming sense of hopelessness in the lives of Ward's characters with glaring examples that all lives aren't valued equally. Although Salvage the Bones takes place during the time of Hurricane Katrina, Ward did an excellent job in making this story feel as if it could have taken place at almost anytime within the last fifty to seventy five years in the rural south. It is disturbing to witness the lack of change and progress for many people in a country that should present opportunities to everyone.
I have to admit there were some spots where it was harder to push through the dialogue. However, the vernacular used played into the idea that I was reading about people with greatly different experiences and circumstances than my own. Ward created characters that will stick with me for some time. Salvage the Bones is not an easy story to experience, but well worth the journey.
A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn't show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting.
As the twelve days that make up the novel’s framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family—motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to face another day. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.